The Hawks need to make changes to the roster
Houston also filled the roster with versatile defenders, including a familiar face in Atlanta’s own Clint Capela. However, it was Houston’s wings, particularly Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker, that allowed them to become the sixth-best defense in the league that season. Perimeter defense is another glaring issue for the Hawks, as Atlanta showed absolutely zero resistance to the Boston Celtics whenever they wanted to get to the basket in this year’s first-round series.
But what about Harden and Paul? How were two ball-dominant guards able to coexist when all the historical evidence suggests that they shouldn’t? The first answer lies in the fact that Harden was just insanely good that season, winning the MVP and averaging 30.4 points a game. The floor spacing that was created by Houston’s shooters, including Tucker, Gordon, and players like Ryan Anderson, gave Harden and Paul maximum space to operate, something that Murray and Young did not have this year.
Also, the fact that both Houston guards shot upwards of 36% from three essentially turned whichever one didn’t have the ball into a spot-up shooter in their own right. The Rockets’ ability to run pick-and-rolls with either Harden or Paul, both offensive maestros, at the helm, Capela running to the rim, and three floor spacers keeping the defense honest, was the bread and butter of the most efficient offense in the NBA that year and put immense pressure on the opposition. Whenever a play broke down, both Harden and Paul could create offense for themselves and score from all three levels.
So how does Atlanta apply these principles in real-time to a flawed roster? My first suggestion is pulling the plug on the John Collins experience one way or another and plugging in someone in the vein of Tucker who can defend and knock down corner threes. They don’t have to be a star. Just someone who can do those simple things. Dillon Brooks and Grant Williams are names to keep an eye on in the free-agent market that could fill that void.
Also, Atlanta has to decide once and for all whether De’Andre Hunter is worth all of the headaches that his inconsistency incites. Again, he doesn’t have to be an All-Star. But he does have to knock down open threes and actually defend, not just theoretically be able to defend with his wingspan and quickness. If he can’t do that, Atlanta owes it to the fanbase to look at other options. Perhaps one of the Brooklyn Nets’ plethora of 3-and-D wings will become available via trade.
Or maybe Jalen Johnson will take the leap this year and be able to stop perimeter players and knock down threes.
Either way, to maximize the Young and Murray experiment, Atlanta needs to space the floor and hike up as many threes as possible and simplify the offense into a steady diet of pick-and-rolls and kickouts for open shots.
There’s a reason two ball-dominant guards rarely coexist. There is only one basketball. And the reality of the situation is that Atlanta probably won’t ever find a championship level of success with Young and Murray in their backcourt.
Because they don’t have a ton of flexibility right now, they might as well make the most of it by modeling both their roster and their playstyle after the team that came the closest to ultimate success, which was the Rockets of four years ago.